"Now I shall have the privilege of visiting some of the places more closely connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,”1 said his Holiness John Paul II when he made his historical pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2000.
“Today, it is with profound emotion that I set foot in the Land where God chose to “pitch his tent” (Jn. 1:14; cf. Ex. 40:34-35; 1 Kgs. 8:10-13), and made it possible for Man to encounter him more directly. In this year of the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus, it has been my strong personal desire to come here and pray in the most important places which have seen God’s interventions, the wonders he has done from ancient times. “You are the God who works wonders. You showed your power among the peoples” (Ps. 77:15).”2
His Holiness' pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the Great Jubilee was the highlight of all of his papal pilgrimages. His visit to the cradle of Christianity bore historical, emotional and spiritual meaning not only for Christianity but also for the Jewish people.
As "the apostle of peace and reconciliation," his visit to Israel was an additional step towards deepening Christian-Jewish reconciliation: “While this focus on the Holy Land expresses the Christian duty to remember, it also seeks to honor the deep bond which Christians continue to have with the Jewish people, from whom Christ came according to the flesh (cf. Rom. 9:5). Much ground has been covered in recent years – especially since the Second Vatican Council – in opening a fruitful dialogue with the people whom God chose as the first recipients of His promises and of the Covenant. The Jubilee must be another opportunity to deepen the sense of the bonds that unite us, helping to remove the misunderstandings once and for all which, sadly, have so often marked the relationship between Christians and Jews with bitterness throughout the centuries.”3
John Paul II in the Western Wall
He was the first Pope ever to pray at the Western Wall. Under the eyes of billions, and following the old Jewish tradition, he placed a written prayer in a crevice of the Wall.
The prayer said:
“God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring Your Name to the nations.
We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of Yours to suffer,
and, asking Your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.” 4
May his legacy live on.
1- From the speech of the Holy Father John Paul II at the Welcome Ceremony in Israel, Tel Aviv Airport, Tuesday, 21 March 2000. Source: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
3-Passage from The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II's letter concerning his pilgrimage to the places linked to the History of Salvation – 29 June 1999. Source: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
4-Prayer of the Holy Father John Paul II at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, 26 March 2000. Source: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.